Judaism Today — The Severed Flower: Conservatism Without God

Examine your left wrists: How many of us wear mechanical watches? I lament the passing of the mechanical watch. I know that electronic timepieces and digital watches probably enhance punctuality, but they lack the moral message of the mechanical clock.

My father, who was also my teacher and my rabbi, used to encouraged me as a child to attempt to repair all the broken mechanical timepieces around the house. Inevitably, this involved dismantling the piece and confronting what appeared to be hundreds of little cogs and wheels scattered around the tabletop. While doing this, I would entreat a benevolent Deity to make the dashed thing work again; as it turned out, my prayers were seldom answered.

One day I finally asked my father, “Why do you make me persist in these futile endeavors?” He said, “I’m glad you asked that. I want you to notice something, and I want you always to remember this: while there are many ways to put the clock back together, only one way works.”

I believe that there is only one fundamental set of principles on which to base a functioning society, that the forces which accept these principles will often be tragically divided with regard to methods, priorities, etc., and that the forces which reject the fundamental principles will be united by their rejection. In practical terms, we might say that there are two types of faith: a constructive or positive faith, which accepts universal truths, and what we might call an anti-faith, whose defining characteristic is the rejection of those truths. The positive faith often produces conflict among its adherents, who disagree with one another for the very best of reasons. The anti-faith produces the unanimity of the lowest common denominator.

I now hypothesize that the Left does in fact represent such an anti-faith and that the ultimate principles being rejected is none other than God Himself. Of course, the scientific standard for the acceptance of any hypothesis is: how well does it explain certain phenomena? I believe my hypothesis does this very well, and in a particularly difficult case. The congruence of opinion on the Left is so remarkable, it resembles the rising of the sun: that is to say, were it not so regular and so common, it would cause men to prostrate themselves at the sight. Consider: why on earth should those people who support radical environmentalism, in all its bizarre manifestations, be exactly the same people who endorse the agenda of radical homosexuality? Why should the same group who enthusiastically advocate widespread abortion also embrace gun control? And so on, down the line of leftist causes.

Restated simply, there are many, many ways to worship God, but only one way to reject Him. This, I think, best accounts both for the divisiveness of the conservative movement and for the congruence of the Left.

Some of you would readily agree with me that the Left is rejectionist but might hesitate over my assertion that it is God they oppose. Let me, then, further test my hypothesis in a more specific way: I’ll ask how the basic doctrines of the Left compare with their Scriptural counterparts. If there were no anti-God theme to liberalism, then we ought to find that liberals sometimes agree with Biblical social policy and sometimes do not. Let us examine a few such doctrines with this purpose in mind.

Now the Bible has some interesting prohibitions; one of them is a strict objection to tattooing. It ties in to a prohibition in the Bible against any self-mutilation of one’s body. Let us see what drives this prohibition. The fundamental idea here is stewardship and tenancy. The Bible tells me that my body doesn’t belong to me. I have the use of it, and I must look after it. The tenant has much less freedom to paint the walls or change the plumbing than the landlord. Biblical law, therefore, severely restricts not just tattooing, but also such practices as abortion and euthanasia. The message is consistent: control over the body, including life and death, must be left with God. Man should not interfere.

Of course, the position of the Left on these issues helps confirm our hypothesis. Liberals reject the notion that God gives life, yet God still seems to retain some control over death. So they would seize that power and make matters of life and death into questions of human choice. We now understand why abortion and euthanasia have to be such major themes on the Left’s political landscape.

We also find that the exception proves the rule. The Bible does give society one measure of control over life: it authorizes capital punishment for certain crimes. If human control over life and death, generically understood, were the underlying principle in the Left’s position on abortion and euthanasia, then wouldn’t liberals fight for capital punishment as a logical extension of their principle? But instead they oppose it at every turn. And this moral repugnance for imposing capital punishment is best explained by our hypothesis. This resembles the peculiar ferocity that devotees of the Left reserve for the cigarette smoker in the face of their placid acceptance of the AIDS carrier. They fuel a national movement to prohibit smoking in any public building but resist the suggestion that known AIDS carriers should be excluded from food preparation occupations. The only possible explanation I can find is that cigarette smoking is not Biblically proscribed. Since homosexuality is Biblically forbidden, any sanctions applied in that direction might look suspiciously like an endorsement of God, and so must be scrupulously avoided. Likewise, since capital punishment is biblically mandated, the modernist must oppose it.

There is still more evidence for our hypothesis. Whether one considers the Bible as light bedtime reading or regards it as the Word of God, nobody, but nobody, can miss this fundamental rule: every single human being has been granted the power of moral choice. Every single one of us has been given the ability to make his own decisions. Abel is murdered — Cain, is not gently excused on account of traumatic potty training. The population of Sodom is not the victim of its environment. Everyone is accountable for his actions. Not, perhaps, for his thoughts and motivations — only God can know these — but certainly for his behavior.

The Left, on the other hand, give us an unbelievable proliferation of mental and social disorders, because they want reasons other than free moral choice to account for why people behave the way they do. Look at the social disorder that inevitably results from such a seemingly small decision.

It’s quite clear that the power and unity of the Left come not from any intrinsic merit of their policy ideas or from any well-considered public philosophy. That power and unity could come only from a religious faith: what I call Anti-Godism. And this truth brings us face to face with an even more terrifying fact: that the Left’s goal in the current culture war is not a negotiated peace, but unconditional surrender. This enemy is intent on capturing our capital city, nothing less.

It follows that only a similar effort on our side can possibly succeed. Conservatives cannot fight this powerful and all-encompassing religious faith with a few good policy ideas; we must reach back to God’s word, the ultimate source of our convictions, if we are to prevail.

I do not believe that a superior system can be developed than that which we have inherited, and to which our Founding Fathers so faithfully subscribed. I refer to the Judeo-Christian value system, and I believe that we have no choice but to adopt it as the unifying theory of existence for our side of the great American culture war. To some extent, we have little choice, because the other side has already chosen Scripture as the battlefield. They have made the abolition of transcendent value the centerpiece of their struggle. For us to ignore Judeo-Christian thought is to abandon the main battleground of this war to the political enemy.


Daniel Lapin (born 1947) is an American Orthodox rabbi, author, public speaker, and heads the American Alliance of Jews and Christians. He was previously the founding rabbi of the Pacific Jewish Center in Venice, California. and the former head of Toward Tradition, the Commonwealth Loan Company and the Cascadia Business Institute. Lapin currently hosts a daily television program with his wife Susan and provides spiritual advice to people through his website.

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